The Italian, creator of melodies like those in the films ‘The good, the ugly and the bad’, ‘The Mission’ or ‘Cinema Paradiso’, is considered one of the best musicians in film history
The Italian 20th century soundtrack was written forever when he was commissioned to compose the music for Novecento , Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic of the two Italias. But, Ennio Morricone (Rome, 1928-2020), without intending to, had built at that time the sound portrait of a cinematographic landscape where the world could return thousands of times more, even if the lights in the room had already been turned on. At dawn on Monday, the composer stopped living at 91 years old. She had just been awarded the Princess of Asturias Award,shortly after announcing his withdrawal from the stage. She had to pick it up just on her birthday, just when she was 92 and her mobility had gotten a little complicated. But until he suffered a domestic accident, he had continued to work at his home overlooking the Roman piazza Venezia to continue building a universe that, as he always said, had saved him from war. In a conversation with this newspaper just a year ago, he wondered about the nature of the afterlife. In this, too, the teacher will now be able to find some answers.
Morricone could be a toothache for an interviewer or an insufficiently announced visit. The warnings of his environment used to always be infinite and the history of failed reports, very long. The teacher had a character of a thousand demons. The same one that sent Quentin Tarantino to hell when he considered that he used his subjects capriciously in films like Cursed Bastards or Django Unchained . But as with the filmmaker, with whom he reconciled and signed the tremendous music of The Hateful Eight —That diligence start advancing through the snow works thanks to a music turned into a main character—, he ended up being much kinder and closer than his journalistic man legend frightened the journalist before the interview.
One of the usual warnings, that the teacher did not compose soundtracks but music for movies, it should also be taken into account now. Precocious composer and attentive student of staves at the Santa Cecilia Roman Conservatory, disciple of contemporary composer Goffredo Petrassi , from whom he learned “ absolute music ”, Morricone flirted with improvisation and jazz from Nuova Consonanza, the avant-garde band founded in 1964 by Franco Evangelisti and whom he joined two years later. A school whose echoes were still traceable in the cuckoos, whistles, synthesizers, screeches, or ocarinas that he used for some of his film scores.
Absolute music, however, represented an element in itself. Autonomous of prefabricated stories, unusual requests from the listener or market laws. “It works if it’s good and that’s it. It can be attached to any reality, but it does not suppose reality itself, but a separate imaginary. It has a complementary function to each tape and can justify the work as a whole, but independently. It represents that abstraction of what is not said and is not seen in the film. And this is how it should work ”, he explained, referring to a certain Wagnerian ideal ( Gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art).
Today, whether the teacher liked it or not, it is impossible to separate his music from the images. Returning again and again to the desert of Tabernas (Almería) where Sergio Leone, an adventure companion since they shared a desk at school, filmed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) or For a Fistful of Dollars (1964) . Or the vertigo of the baby stroller heavily climbing the stairs of New York Central Station before the final shooting of Eliot Ness’s The Untouchables (1987) . Also through the monumental epic that Bertolucci shot with Novecento on 20th century Italy, a huge portrait of a country always split in two, the south and the north, also between the violent embers of fascism and the most vibrant communist vigor in western Europe; or the celebrated soundtrack of Cinema Paradiso, a tape that is now being replaced in Spanish cinemas.
Morricone, who would have liked to work with Pedro Almodóvar beyond the ¡Átame!that they did together in 1989, did not accept concrete commissions. Her job was not to cook pizzas to taste. She would send the horn to those who asked for well-known melodies, sonic imitations of great composers, or, as Tarantino had done before unleashing her anger, she turned what she had written into a mere accompaniment troupe. At the beginning she developed a very refined technique to avoid sterile discussions or debates about her scores: she sent her work just when the film was finishing production. “Sometimes just a month before the premiere. The director did not even have the option to reject it. Many needed to get used to it, sometimes my works were an unexpected blow ”, he told this newspaper a few months ago. Over the years, the technique was no longer necessary because some directors, such as Sergio Leone,For a handful of dollars from music already written.
Morricone’s political bars were always subtly expressed. He supported Matteo Renzi when he undertook a process of reforms to modernize the country. He praised Barack Obama when he wanted to build a fairer America through a universal healthcare system. And he criticized Trump, in his own way, when he learned that one of his great soul friends and fellow travelers had supported him. “I respect Clint Eastwood’s opinion, but I disagree with Trump.”
The relationship with the United States was always consummated at a distance. Some believe that the Academy that awards the Oscars never forgave her for deciding never to trade her beloved Rome for the boulevards and highways of Los Angeles, as did so many colleagues by profession who embraced the golden statuettes almost annually. He did not do it for the impressive music of La Misión (1986), or even for Once Upon a Time America (1984), although many said it was because it was delivered after the deadline. Morricone won his first Oscar four years ago , for the music of Quentin Tarantino’s The Odious Eight . In 2007, he had received the honorary award from the Film Academy. At 87years, he went on stage cheered, picked up the statuette and thanked his wife, Maria, for enduring his “absence”. Today the feeling is sharper and will spread throughout the world as the hours go by. His music will continue to play when his name disappears from the credit titles.